Led by an Iona squad in search of its eighth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 11 years, the MAAC as a whole has been uplifted by the Gaels’ success which has created some competition for the program in a conference that’s more recently run through New Rochelle.
Sitting second having last seen the NCAA Tournament in 2011 is Saint Peter’s. which under head coach Shaheen Holloway has seen improvement since his hiring. Despite falling to Iona twice during the regular season Saint Peter’s could be Iona’s biggest rivals for the conference title.
In third is Siena who has been a competitive team in the MAAC consistently earning top seedings for the conference tournament of the past few seasons such as earning the No. 1 seed in 2021 but falling to Iona in the quarterfinals or in 2020 again as the No. 1 seed advancing to the semifinals before cancelations due to COVID-19.
While Siena has come so close to reaching the NCAA Tournament over the last two seasons they’ve seemed to just miss out each time and with this group of seniors and graduate students will see this as a great opportunity to finally achieve that goal of earning a spot in the dance.
Behind several other programs who have all found some success in conference play and managed some exciting upsets including Monmouth, Niagara, Manhattan, Marist, and more the MAAC will be far from an easy title walk for Rick Pitino and his Gaels.
Note: All matchups will be hosted at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ
First Round (Tuesday, Mar. 8), ESPN+
Game 1: No. 8 Manhattan vs No. 9 Rider (5 p.m. ET)
Game 2: No. 7 Fairfield vs No. 10 Canisius (7 p.m. ET)
Game 3: No. 6 Marist vs No. 11 Quinnipiac (9 p.m. ET)
Quarterfinals (Wednesday/Thursday, Mar. 9 & 10) ESPN+
Game 4: No. 1 Iona vs Winner of Game 1 (7 p.m. ET)
Game 5: No. 2 Saint Peter’s vs Winner of Game 2 (9:30 p.m. ET)
Game 6: No. 3 Siena vs Winner of Game 3 (7 p.m. ET)
Game 7: No. 4 Monmouth vs No. 5 Niagara (9:30 p.m. ET)
Semifinals (Friday, Mar. 11) ESPNews & ESPN+
Game 8: Winner of Game 4 vs Winner of Game 7 (6 p.m. ET)
Game 9: Winner of Game 5 vs Winner of Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET)
Championship (Saturday, Mar. 12) ESPNU
Game 10: Winner of Game 8 vs Winner of Game 9
Iona (25-6, 17-3): After a fairly dominant showing in conference play which consisted of just three losses, Iona will be viewed as the favorites heading into this year’s MAAC Tournament. The Gaels bolster the conference’s highest-scoring offense behind senior guard Tyson Jolly and are a top defense in the MAAC ranking the lowest in opponent 3-point percentage and third lowest in opponent field goal percentage. While turnovers can be a problem for Rick Pitino’s squad — they have the second-most in the conference — they manage to make up for it elsewhere also leading the conference in rebounds, assists and blocked shots. If Iona can take care of the ball and continue scoring like they’re capable, this dynamic group of sophomores and seniors should run the table in the MAAC Tournament.
Saint Peter’s (16-11, 14-6): Now the Peacocks are the MAAC’s actual top defense, allowing the fewest total points to opponents with 1,684 points at an average of 62.4 PPG which is also the conference’s lowest. Where Saint Peter’s could potentially struggle is on the offensive side as field goals, free throws and rebounding are all areas they rank low in. But there is a bright spot coming from beyond the arc as the Peacocks are the third-best 3-point shooting team in the conference at 35%. It would take a huge performance both defensively and offensively to beat Iona but if they can maintain that defensive consistently from the season and find the shot from deep, don’t count Saint Peter’s out. They came close twice this season, falling to Iona by single digits during the regular season but it’s often hard to beat a team three times in just one season so Holloway will have his guys ready to battle.
Siena (15-13, 12-8): Behind Javian McCollum shooting 43%, Colby Rogers with 42% and Nick Hopkins at 39%, the Saints have progressed into the best 3-point shooting team in the MAAC and it’s carried them to some big wins this season. But for all the 3-point scoring they do, this is a team that is also ranking dead last in average points scored per game with 66.1. If the Saints can find some mid-way point between scoring and defending they can be a really good team and they’ve shown that throughout conference play this season including during a 70-64 win over Iona. Lastly, Siena hosted the highest average attendance in the MAAC this year and if Saints fans can get behind their team and travel down to Atlantic City for the tournament, they can absolutely make a run for an NCAA bid.
Monmouth (19-12, 11-9): Receiving early-season praise and even at one point a spot on Mid-Major Madness’ The Other Top 25 Monmouth raced out to a 2-0 start to conference play and wins over Pittsburgh, Yale and Colgate. But the Hawks exited a Top 25 position almost as quickly as they’d entered one falling out of The Other Top 25 the following week with a loss to Hofstra before going 0-3 upon reentry to MAAC play. This is a team that’s fairly strong on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball and has created some noise in the conference this season having beaten Siena before almost taking down Iona on two occasions. While consistency has left something to be desired for Monmouth they’re not a squad coaches will want to face in a one-game elimination format especially given the experience of their four starting seniors who’ve all played on this stage before.
Players to Watch
Tyson Jolly, Iona (14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.3 APG)
Nelly Junior Joseph, Iona (12.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.6 APG)
Daryl Banks, Saint Peter’s (11.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 APG)
KC Ndefo, Saint Peter’s (10.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.4 APG)
Colby Rogers, Siena (14.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.3 APG)
Anthony Gaines, Siena (10.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.2 APG)
George Papas, Monmouth (15.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.9 APG)
Walker Miller, Monmouth (14.6 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.2 APG)
Marcus Hammond, Niagara (18.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.8 APG)
Noah Thomasson, Niagara (10.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.5 APG)
Jao Ituka, Marist (15.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Ricardo Wright, Marist (13.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Taj Benning, Fairfield (10.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 APG)
Supreme Cook, Fairfield (10.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, .6 APG)
Jose Perez, Manhattan (18.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.5 APG)
Anthony Nelson, Manhattan (11 PPG, 3 RPG, 2.2 APG)
Dimencio Vaughn, Rider (12.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.3 APG)
Dwight Murray Jr., Rider (12.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4.6 APG)
Armon Harried, Canisius (11.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.5 APG)
Jordan Henderson, Canisius (11.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.1 APG)
Matt Balanc, Quinnipiac (14.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, .4 APG)
Dezi Jones, Quinnipiac (11.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.9 APG)
Taking down Manhattan in the quarterfinals before defeating Monmouth to advance to the Championship round, Iona will face Siena who managed a win over Marist, and then another over Saint Peter’s in the semifinals to also book a spot in the championship. Here, a well-contested game from both sides with solid defense will see the Gaels prevail with offensive firepower from Tyson Jolly for a second-consecutive MAAC Championship title.